Broad Street Parkway plan zips ahead

NASHUA – A state vote has given the green light for plans to proceed with a cross-city parkway, as federal money is freed up and the table set for the next step to begin – an environmental re-evaluation.

Meeting on Wednesday in Concord, the Executive Council approved an agreement that transferred ownership of the Broad Street Parkway project from the state to the city.

City aldermen had approved the agreement in December.

The state’s sign-off commits the city to contribute $6 million to leverage $45 million in federal grants. The city’s share of the money would come from a $37.6 million bond that aldermen approved last fall, according to city officials.

“The important first step is done. We had to have the (Executive Council) sign off on it, or else we’d have no agreement at all,” said Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom, his board’s liaison for the parkway project.

“This project will construct a new highway within the city compact; therefore the city of Nashua will be responsible for the improvements and maintenance, and the funding to match federal highway funds,” state Transportation Commissioner George Campbell said.

With the municipal agreement now in place, the city is set to sign a contract with the Nashua Regional Planning Commission to begin work on the environmental re-evaluation. Aldermen have already approved the contract, and NRPC will subcontract with Vanasse, Hangen, Brustlin Inc. of Bedford to do the work.However, the state transportation department has to OK the environmental work for the yearlong study to begin.

The state will have to sign off on every step in the parkway process, said Stephen Dookran, the city engineer.

The first-half of VHB’s study will include a search for “fatal flaws” in so-called option 2, the less expensive path for the parkway to follow, Dookran said.

One option, at a total cost of $57 million to $66.4 million depending on estimates for 2011 interest rates, would follow roughly the same path as the 2007 proposal, routing most of the traffic to West Hollis and Kinsley streets on the southern end.

Option two costs $52 million to $60.5 million and offers a straightening of the Nashua River Bridge and a less drastic realignment of intersections at the southern end, routing more traffic along Central, Water and Factory streets toward Main Street.

While the city hasn’t yet selected the route of the nearly 2-mile roadway, officials are leaning toward the less expensive option. VHB’s work will determine if environmental hazards or other factors would eliminate that option from consideration, Dookran said.

Following the environmental work would be the final design, expected to begin in 2010 and take about 15 months, Dookran said. The city may opt to combine the design and construction in a single bid, he said.

Construction is expected to be finished by the end of 2014.

The so-called “parkway” was pared down in 2003 from four lanes to two because of cost. It has been debated in the city for decades, drawing along the way its share of proponents and detractors.

Public hearings in September on the $37.6 million bond drew a few supporters and dozens of residents opposed to the parkway. The supporters largely were members of the city’s business community.

The Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce has steadfastly argued that the parkway is key to developing the Millyard industrial area.

Developing the Millyard to attract new businesses and create well-paying jobs has emerged as the chief reason why supporters say the parkway should be built.

Supporters also argue that the parkway will accommodate future traffic needs as the city grows, and the second downtown bridge will be crucial if the Main Street bridge needs to be shut down for repairs or in case an emergency strikes the heart of the city.

Opponents fall roughly into two categories: Residents who live in the neighborhoods which the parkway would cut through, and residents who believe the parkway to be a white elephant that would provide few if any benefits while bankrupting taxpayers.

The project originally gained federal dollars to alleviate downtown congestion and ease air pollution atop Library Hill, problems that largely had been solved by the widening of Route 3, opponents argue.

Some opponents contend the only purpose now for the parkway is to line the pockets of developers.

So far, the city has received and spent $14 million in federal money, funds that would have to be returned if the parkway isn’t built, city officials say. The money was mainly spent to acquire 29 properties in the right-of-way, with some going to fund preliminary engineering work.